1. How to spy on your competition (without getting caught)
Want to know how to spy on your competition without getting caught? ‘Easy,’ says competitive intelligence expert Babette Bensoussan from The MindShifts Group. ‘Don’t do it. Spying is for dummies.’ So what should you do?
With the internet, social networking, blogs and the like, the problem is no longer what you need to know about your competition but how you manage all the information you can get. It’s all ‘out there’ – you just have to collect it and analyse it.
If you do spy and get caught then ‘you deserve what you get’. It’s reckless to do anything illegal when there’s so much information publicly available – from the internet, your own staff, customers, suppliers, etc.
To start with, be very, very clear with what you are trying to understand about your competitors. Once you are clear on that, then collect the information, analyse it to derive the insight, then act on it.
Know some good competitor analytical techniques, which you can use to analyse the information collected. For example, Porter’s Competitor Analysis is invaluable for understanding competitors’ intentions, or you could do management profiling to understand the behaviour of decision makers. By the way, SWOT is not a competitor analytical technique.
And don’t avoid the analysis. Without good analysis, you will have little insights into your competitors. Yes, it does take some time to do but let me assure you, after working on over 300 client projects, the analysis and insight is worth it!
The legal collection of competitor information is something that many business people carry out intuitively. They may be at a conference, trade show, reading the papers, scouring the internet or attending business functions. Our internal antenna is alert as we talk to one another, or read, to learn and understand how to perform our jobs better or to identify new opportunities in the marketplace.
After 16 years in the business, if you have to spy on your competitors, you are saying more about your own capabilities as a businessperson than you are about your competitive environment. There’s no need to collect competitor information in an underhanded way. There is more information out there than you will ever need.
2. How to unearth hidden IP treasures (and reinvent your business)
According to Mike Lloyd, intellectual property (IP) consultant for Griffith Hack, the quiet holiday period poses an ideal time to audit your IP. Why should you do this? Because you never know what commercial opportunities your company has hidden, just waiting to be unearthed.
One good reason for conducting an audit is that you might be owed royalties, if someone else is using your IP.
Not so long ago, for example, US technology company NTP hit the jackpot when the makers of BlackBerry, Research In Motion, agreed to pay it US$612.5 million in royalties. NTP claimed to hold patents for some of the technology used by Research In Motion in its BlackBerry devices.
You might also have valuable technology at your disposal that you never knew you had.
There’s the equally illuminating tale of the Post- It-Note. An adhesive scientist at 3M developed a weak adhesive that he promoted within
3M for six years without interest. But then in 1974 a colleague began to use this adhesive to attach bookmarks in church. He made up samples of a Only then did the commercial potential become apparent.
If you want to audit your intellectual property there are three easy steps.
Firstly, write a list! Make a catalogue or create a complete database of all your intellectual property and perhaps include items that you think could become valuable IP. You’d be surprised at how many organisations, large and small, fail to take this simple step.
Secondly, work through that list and speak to the people in your organisation responsible for the different items of IP. Ask, “What’s this IP used for? Why should we protect it?” You might find something of value that you never knew you had. But you also might find worthless IP, which you can stop spending time and money holding or developing.
Lastly, with patents, trademarks and designs, it’s worth checking what other patents, designs and trademarks have referred to your IP in their applications. This information is available online. If another organisation has cited your IP, they are clearly interested
in what you do. This is a signal that an opportunity exists. And, of course, speak to someone who understands IP rights. You’ll pay a quality accountant to get the best return on your tax. It’s worth finding quality IP professionals to fully exploit the hidden potential in your IP.
3. How to reinvent your brand…then sell your company
Wondering how to reinvent your brand to sell it off? Marc Niemes, five-time business owner, currently of SumTotal, and rival to Madonna in the reinvention stakes, explains how.
One of the keys to reinventing your brand for sale is remembering that your reason for selling is completely different to a prospect’s reason for buying.
Begin with the end in mind about your company and brand. You can either upset your competition enough that they want to take you out or you make enough money not to care. Many companies are ultimately formed to be acquired by the competition, often built around one particular innovation.
Alternatively, a buyer might simply want to get to your customer base.
I was always taught by VCs to ask, ‘Do you need to own a company to get to its client base?’ This is why a strong brand is important. If the brand is strong enough to keep clients from leaving, then you have a valuable acquisition target.
Valuable company names seem to either describe the benefit of your service, like ‘superior service’ or ‘reliance catering’ or have absolutely nothing to do with it and simply link with a common word (often misspelt like ‘homez’ over ‘homes’).
I remember working with Macromedia when they launched Flash MX. I asked what the ‘MX’ stood for – it didn’t mean anything. They just thought it sounded good. Calling a business something like Marc Niemes Associates will generally only impress one person – Marc Niemes (and my perhaps his mum).
Carry out a ‘common person test’. With one company, we came up with an intranet product for kids in schools called IQ Net. A bunch of teachers said the name was an old measure of intelligence and no longer relevant. But for marketing purposes, nine out of 10 people know that IQ is a measure of intelligence.
So, don’t fight it.
The brand also has to mean something, so make it stand for something. I was reading that JB Hi-Fi used to stack product on wooden pallets because they had no option. Now they are purpose built that way, for all their stores, with those yellow labels with black and red writing. They look cheap, but are they?
When you’re looking to reinvent and then sell your business, think about why people are buying companies like yours. Then, line up your strategy to be noticed by your competition. And don’t forget to have fun.
4. How to make money from a business blog
A buzz word of Web 2.0, a blog is even more timeconsuming than hours wiled away on Facebook. So how exactly can you transform this time pit into a money-spinner? Zoe Warne, co-founder of Melbournebased digital agency, August, which focuses on online and offline campaigns, shares the secrets.
While there are some people who successfully turn a humble little blog into a money-making machine, the vast majority don’t. In fact, many people underestimate the time involved in ensuring that their blog is continually updated and refreshed with relevant content.
That said, there are some revenue models that would-be bloggers can consider to improve their chances of making money from their blog. Firstly, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising sees advertisers ‘pay per click’ received from links embedded in your blog or from stand-alone designated ad space. Then there’s affiliate marketing, where outward links are placed on your site and you get paid for each ‘referral’ (sale, lead or valued user behaviour to the advertiser). And you should also consider the value of your subscriber database and if you have the ability in your blog to collect subscriber details. You can earn money by selling space within any subscriber e-communications to merchants who want to target your customers.
Before even thinking about the cash, you’re best to concentrate your efforts on creating a business blog that will attract the kind of traffic capable of impressing advertisers. So find your unique voice and stick to it – readers are typically attracted to bloggers who talk in a straight-forward, no-nonsense style. Find a unique subject and narrow your focus. Keep it brief – make sure you edit the content (or have someone else do it) and delete any superfluous words. Make it look good – even the best blogs can be devalued by poor design so consider engaging a professional to create a blog design that is attractive, functional and within brand guidelines. Include links to other relevant blogs/websites and aggregate content to enhance your SEO and attract more visitors.
Creating a great blog is time-intensive, so be realistic about the time required to make it a success. You may also need to call in the technical experts for initial (or ongoing) support and to explain the different monetising options available. Finally remember that blog readers are notoriously fickle so you will need to keep the content fresh and engaging if you hope to keep them for the long term.